The concept of “superhero fatigue” is a little weird because the term makes the assumption that it’s the audience that’s tired of watching superhero films. The truth is that the audience is tired of watching bad superhero films, and they are more than happy to watch good superhero films. If you look at the discourse around recent releases like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, and The Batman, you’ll see folks talking about the filmmaking, the themes, and most importantly, the sincerity demonstrated by every department. It’s just that studios are pushing out way too many bad superhero films, and, just like rejecting bad films from every other genre and subgenre, people are rejecting them. So, the onus is on the studios to make good superhero films instead of expecting the audience to lap up everything and anything that they are served. With that out of the way, let’s talk about The Blue Beetle.
Ángel Manuel Soto’s Blue Beetle, which has been written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, follows the fresh graduate Jaime Reyes as he returns to his family in Palmera City in the hopes of celebrating his latest achievement and spending time with his loved ones. Instead, Jaime is forced to deal with the anxiety of losing their home because of the ongoing gentrification around their locality, as well as the feeling of irresponsibility of not being around when his father suffered a cardiac arrest. The villain of the film is Victoria Kord and the entire industry company that she has built, as she is not only trying to find the artifact (i.e., the Scarab) that turns people into weapons of mass destruction, but she is also the one responsible for taking over the Latino-centric neighborhood. Her niece, Jenny, doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her and is strictly against this prospect. Jenny doesn’t want the Scarab to fall into the wrong hands, so she steals it and gives it to Jaime to protect it for the time being. Despite her strict order not to tinker with it, Jaime examines it, and the Scarab becomes one with his body, thereby making him the titular Blue Beetle.
Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer’s writing in Blue Beetle truly shines when he’s not dealing with all the superhero shenanigans. Gentrification, capitalism, corporate takeovers—these are very real issues, and when they’re seen through the eyes of a family of immigrants who have been through a lot, it hits home. I mean, unless you come from generational wealth or you are the descendant of those who were and are in charge of oppressing minorities, then it won’t do anything for you. But for everyone else, the importance of a house, the history that’s embedded in every brick of that place, and the dream to stay true to one’s roots while subverting the expectations that are placed on a community will undoubtedly feel relatable. Dunnet-Alcocer understands the importance of family conversations—the energy, the empathy, the concern, and the sudden bursts of humor that keep us going. He knows the importance of names and how White people always mispronounce them because they know it’s insulting. He understands how easily a community can be bullied if they’ve got a lot to lose because they’ve earned it all. And that’s why he highlights the importance of pushing back because the oppressors never stop due to appeasement.
However, as soon as the superhero stuff begins, Blue Beetle flies straight off the rails. I mean, for all that talk about losing the neighborhood and building a sense of community, the final act of the film takes place on a literal island, away from all the stakes that have been placed so far. What’s even the point? Why should I care about a fight on an island when you have the whole barrio at your disposal? Didn’t you just spend a lot of the running time underscoring the importance of saving it from the corporate overlords? Why did you forget about it throughout your third act? I am blaming Dunnet-Alcocer for this, but there’s a good chance that this is a studio-mandated decision due to the backlash after the destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel, and that’s stupid! If a superhero’s feelings are linked to a city, town, or even a village, everything must go down there because then we can see why it matters so much to them. The exposition should translate into action! I’m sure it’s not that hard to understand. Anyway, Dunnet-Alcocer manages to craft a few original and interesting conversations between Khaji-Da (the Scarab’s voice) and Jaime. The rest is “bleh.”
Talking about the action, it’s unfortunately bad. Here’s the thing: if your character has a dark suit, like Batman’s, they’ve got to be lit properly, and the choreography, editing, CGI, and VFX have to be executed in a way so that it’s all legible. Someone like Batman is all about stealth, so sometimes seeing him sporadically is the entire point. I don’t think that’s Blue Beetle’s thing, and that’s why I’m confused about why most of his action sequences are set at night or in darkly lit corridors and hangars. I don’t have anything against the night or darkly lit places. It’s just that none of the action is visible enough to be appreciated. I’m sure there’s some dynamic camerawork, stunt work, editing, CGI, and VFX that are on display. But all I could see were neon blue streaks, red streaks, and muzzle flashes. There’s only one action sequence that takes place in daylight, and it’s brilliant because you can see what’s going on! I don’t want to imply that nighttime action can’t be done. I am saying that Ángel Manuel Soto and his team haven’t done a good job in Blue Beetle. I like the suit, though! It’s very Power Rangers-esque, and you can almost feel the texture.
As mentioned in the title, Xolo Maridueña is the best thing about Blue Beetle. He has acted like his life depended on it. He acted with every fiber of his being. And I don’t want you to think that he overacted throughout the entire film. When he needed to be a good listener and stay in the moment with his co-actors, Xolo delivered. When he needed to pretend that he was in pain, he screamed like his guts were being pulled out off-screen. He is the only one who managed to match the great George Lopez’s energy, and that’s the highest honor I can bestow on anybody. Also, he is very cute. In fact, the entire cast is full of good-looking people who can act really, really well. Bruna Marquezine felt like a bona fide star. Belissa Escobedo was brilliant. Adriana Barraza pretty much stole the show. Despite not having a lot of screen time, Damián Alcázar and Elpidia Carrillo delivered during their respective pivotal scenes. Susan Sarandon seemed to be sleepwalking through her role. But it’s Susan Sarandon, so even when she sleepwalks, she’s great. Raoul Max Trujillo was alright. Harvey Guillén was a running joke, but he got a good payoff.
In conclusion, Blue Beetle could’ve been a good movie, but it falls short due to its inclination towards generic superhero tropes, thereby straying away from everything that screams “Latino.” I think we’ve gone past the point where superhero movies need to check all the boxes and impress every single person. Storytellers need to understand their characters, pick a genre, and put some heart into it. Even when they are told to make certain story elements or sequences a little “accessible” to the general audience, they need to put their foot down and stick to what makes them unique, speaks to their roots, and inspires a generation that is seeking validation from these movies. Also, don’t be afraid of daylight or just learn how to shoot nighttime sequences properly because one of the main requirements of a good superhero movie is memorable action. And how are people going to remember anything if they can’t see what’s going on?